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A cta Poloniae H istorica

46, 1982
PL ISSN 0001-6829

Feliks Tych



This paper is the first broader approach to the Polish question

at the London Congress of the 2nd International.1 It is also an
attempt at scrutinising the views of that organisation concerning
the national question in general.
When on September 28, 1864, at a meeting in St Martins
Hall, London, the International Workingmens Association was
founded, later referred to as the 1st International, it was prompted
by the intention of English and French labour leaders to express
their solidarity with the national uprising of January 1863 in
Poland. As Karl Kautsky said once : The Polish question stood
at the cradle of the International.2 For the twelve years of its
existence the 1st International was sympathetic to the Polish
aspirations to independence. The demand for the independence of
Poland constituted a part of the political programme of that
organisation created by Marx.

1 E arlier, the m a tte r w as m entioned by : L. W a s i l e w s k i , M id zy

na ro d w ka robotnicza w obec hasa niepodlegoci P olski [W orkers In te r
national and the Slogan of Polish Independence], Niepodlego, vol. II,
1930, pp. 32 - 42 ; A. C z u b i s k i, R uch so cjalistyczn y w Europie w obec
od b u dow ania pastw a polskiego [Socialist M o vem en t in Europe and the
R eb u ild ing o f the Polish S tate], K w a rta ln ik H istoryczny, 1968, No 3,
pp. 624 - 630 ; A. G o w a c k i , M idzynarodow y ruch so cja listyczn y i od
b udow a P olski (1889- 1918) [International Socialist M o vem ent and the
R eb u ild ing of Poland, 1889 - 1918], Szczecin 1974, pp. 27 - 38 ; W. N a j -
d u s , S D K P iL a SD P R R , 1893 - 1907 [Social D em ocracy o f the Polish K in g
d o m and L ith u a n ia and Social-D em ocratic W o rkers P arty o f R ussia,
1893- 1907], W rocaw 1973, pp. 4 2 -4 4 . O th e r au th o rs (among th em B ro
nisaw R adlak and J a n Sobczak) w ro te ju st a few lines on th e subject.
2 K. K a u t s k y , F inis Poloniae ?, N eue Z eit, Ju ly 8, 1896, No 42,
p. 484.

7 A cta Poloniae H istorica 46

The Polish struggle for freedom occupied a specific place

in Marxs and Engelss strategic reckonings : it was weakening
the three most reactionary European powersRussia, Prussia
and Austriathe Holy Alliance which hampered progress on
the whole of the European continent. It constituted a barrier
stopping the advance into Europe of the most reactionary of the
threetsarist Russia. Irrespective of the fact that it was not the
popular masses but the gentry that led the struggle, the Polish
liberation movements in the 19th century as a whole served the
cause of European progress.
The decline of the 1st International and its final dissolution in
September 1876 coincided with the almost total disappearance of
Polish patriotic conspiracies. Thus, the Polish question faded away
from European politics.
The labour movement which was developing alongside with
capitalism and always accompanied it, seemed to have forgotten its
old symbols. In a sense it was a different movement. The avant-
garde narrow cadre organisations which formed the 1st Inter
national were replaced in Europe by mass socialist parties which
were becoming increasingly important, together with their growing
parliamentary electorate, in the political life of their countries ;
they were more interested in the everyday affairs of the working
class than in distant final goals of its struggle.
In Poland itself the situation was different. The Polish labour
movement was only beginning to rise at the turn of the 1870s and
could not yet afford to attend to the daily needs of the workers.
It lacked the necessary pressure groups, and where it was the
strongest, i.e. in the Russian-occupied part, in the tsarist empire,
ruled absolutely and without a constitution, it did not have any
political rights, any opportunities to form unions, neither for
political nor even economic purposes. Up to 1906, it did not even
have any parliamentary representation. Throughout the 1880s it
remained at the stage of gathering forces and laying plans.
But even this nascent movement could not and would not
resume the national question in that very same spot where it
has been dramatically broken by the defeat of the January
Uprising of 1863.
First, because it was the gentry that had led both the last and
TH E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 99

the previous Polish liberation uprising while the young socialist

movement considered its prime duty the weaning of workers from
the spiritual care of their elder brothersthe propertied
Secondly, from the 1870s to the 1890s the atmosphere in the
country did not favour the insurgent dreams. The post-uprising
trauma lasted a long time and penetrated to all the social
The critical attitude of the first generation of Polish socialists
towards the national uprisings did not mean that they neglected
the problem of national oppression. But they sought a resolution
of the national question in a manner which would protect them
from another attempt at taking over spiritual leadership by forces
alien to the social interests of the proletariat.3 Thus, it is no
wonder that they did not ask to place the slogan of Polands
independence upon the flag of the international labour movement
as did the 1st International.
On the other hand, there was no one to ask for it in the 1880s.
After the dissolution of the International Workingmens Association
failure marked for many years any attempts at forming an
organisation which in view of the broad development of national
labour movements and the consolidation of socialist parties (then
called social-democratic) in particular countries would coordinate
their struggle.
In July 1889, on the hundredth anniversary of the destruction
of Bastille, representatives of the European socialist parties
succeeded in gathering at the International Congress which marked
the beginning of the organisation later to be known in history
as the 2nd International. The Congress was attended by represen
tatives of the Polish socialist movement.4 Several delegates of the
Polish labour movement from all the three partitions took part in
the successive Congresses of the International. Prior to the fourth
3 R eport from the in te rn atio n a l convention called on th e 50th a n n i
v e rsa ry of th e N ovem ber U prising to G eneva by th e ed ito rs of Rw no,
G eneva 1881. R eprinted in : P ierw sze pokolenie m a rksist w polskich, ed.
by A. M olska, vol. I, W arszaw a 1962, p. 423.
4 The P olish p articip a tio n in th e w ork of th e 2nd In te rn a tio n a l
(1889 - 1914) has been discussed by th e a u th o r in P olskie partie w II M i
dzynarodw ce [Polish P arties in the 2nd International], in : H istoria
II M idzynarodw ki, vol. II, W arszaw a 1978, pp. 679 - 784.

Congress convened for the end of July 1896 in London, the

Polish socialists took a step which, if it had been approved
by the Congress, would mean that the Polish question could
have revived the interest of the international organisation of the
The initiative was born of the new political trends, new
programme attitudes in the national question, that have appeared
in the Polish labour movement. The Polish Socialist Party (PPS),
founded in November 1892 at the convention in Paris, tried to
build a bridge between Marxs former standpoint in the Polish
question and the modern socialist movement rising in the Polish
lands, and to incorporate the programme of the countrys inde
pendence into the political targets of the Polish labour move
But in the new situation on the European political stage, when
in all the constitutional countries of the continent there arose
labour parties which were growing increasingly strong and fought
their battles in the parliaments of their own states, on the basis
of their political institutions, the slogan of Polands independence
could not count on winning the same position it held in the
European socialist movement at the time of the 1st International.
The PPS, sensing this mood, did not at first flaunt its independence
programme on the international stage. It was well aware that
national slogans were looked at with suspicion by the majority
of the parties in the 2nd International. There were also fears
that this suspicion could be used by the internationalist wing of
the Polish movement, the Social-Democratic Party of the Polish
Kingdom (SDKP) in order to undermine the Orthodox image of
the PPS, its socialist credibility on the international stage.
But when in 1895, after arrests had for several years broken
up the national organisation of the SDKP and its Warsaw
survivors had joined the PPS, and when, beginning with April
of the same year, the press organ of the SDKP Sprawa Robot
nicza stopped appearing (the next number was issued more than
a year later, in May 1896), the PPS decided that the moment had

5 P olskie program y socjalistyczne 1878- 1918 [Polish Socialist P rogram

m es, 1878 - 1918], collected and w ith a h istorical com m en tary by F. Tych,
W arszaw a 1975, pp. 216-260.

come to try and win over th e In tern atio n al to the slogan of

Polands independence and th u s consolidate th e p a rty s position
in th a t organisation.
The idea w as launched by th e p rom inent sociologist and P P S
activist, K azim ierz K elles-K rauz, who lived in P aris at the tim e.6
He headed th e P aris branch of th e Foreign League of Polish
Socialists (the P P S foreign organisation) and was th e editor of th e
B ulletin Officiel du P a rti Socialiste Polonais w hich was published
abroad by th e P PS , m ostly fo r th e m ilieu of th e 2nd In te r
Though you w ill curse m e, he w rote on O ctober 26, 1895,
from P aris to th e chiefs of th e C en tral Board of the Foreign
League of Polish Socialists (ZZSP) in London, I shall now
tackle a new (m atter) : enclosed h ere is th e d ra ft resolution
on the question of P olands independence w hich I suggest th e
ZZSP should propose for the agenda of th e in ternational congress
in London due to convene n e x t y e a r [ ...]. The en tire civilized
w orld w ould be shaken by such a slap in th e face adm inistered
to th e tsa rist governm ent by th e p ro letariat, w hile P P S would
gain pow erful m oral support. As to the significance of such
a move for agitation purposes, as to the sp iritu al u pliftthe
results w ould be sim ply incalculable.7
A lthough the d ra ft m entioned the joining of the separated
p arts of one nation, it was really concerned w ith independence
for only one p a rt of th e country : th a t w hich was ruled by the
Russian tsar. T rue, it was th e biggest p art, b u t not th e whole
Poland. The d ra ft did not m ention th e p a rts under the P russian
and A ustrian rule. N ot only because form ally th e P P S was a p a rty
active only in th e R ussian-ruled p a rt b u t also for q u ite a d ifferent
reason : th e fear of losing the su p p o rt of th e G erm an and A ustrian
Two weeks later came a cautious reply from London. We are
ready to take this risky step, w rote on N ovem ber 9, 1895, Bo-

6 For more about him see W. B i e k o w s k i , Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz,

ycie i dzieo [Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, His Life and Work], Wrocaw
7 Central Archives of PUWP Central Committee (hereafter quoted as :
CA KC PZPR), 305/VII/50, card 134.

lesaw Antoni Jdrzejowski on behalf of the Central Board of

the ZZSP, but before we table this motion or inform the French,
Belgians, English and perhaps the Swiss, we must be sure about
the Germans. Only then shall we ask you to tackle the French.
For the Germans are the prime force, and after all, generally
speaking, we would not want to be at variance with them.8
In the same month the draft congress resolution was presented
to Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the two chairmen (the other was
August Bebel) of the German socialist party (SPD). It read as
follows :
Considering :
That the oppression of one nation by another serves only
the interests of capitalists, and is fatal to the working people of
both the Polish nationality and that of the partitioning power ;
That particularly the Russian tsarism which draws its internal
forces and external importance from the conquest and partitioning
of Poland, constitutes a constant threat to the development of the
international labour movement ;
the Congress declares
That the independence of Poland is a political demand
necessary for the international labour movement as well as for
the Polish proletariat.
The main emphasis of the resolution was thus placed on the
significance of the slogan of independence for Poland to the
international labour movement. This was meant to free the
resolution from the suspicion of nationalism.
Liebknecht suggested two amendments to the resolution.9
To the sentence : considering that the oppression of one nation by
another serves only the interests of capitalists he added and
despots and after the formulation of the demand for Polands
independence he added and autonomy. This last addition was
somewhat enigmatic, but Liebknechts support was so eagerly
sought after that the text of the motion went out into the world
with both the amendments.
Later on, in a conversation with the leaders of the ZZSP in

8 CA KC PZPR , 305/II/21, book VI, card 356-357.

9 B. A. Jdrzejow ski from London, Dec. 12, 1895, to K. K elles-K rauz
in P aris, ibidem , book VII, card 30.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 103

London, Liebknecht, asked about it, explained what he meant

by the word autonomy added to the motion. According to the
account by Jzef Pisudski, who was present at the talk, it is to
mean not autonomy in the sense of dependence from another
state, but independence, an autonomy without dependence. He
said that the m atter concerned not ethnographic Poland but the
widest possible and the furthest to the east.10
In June 1896, the PPS decided to publish the congress motion
in the m atter of Polands independence in its journal Przedwit,
published in London.
The article said cautiously that the fate of the motion at the
Congress was at present impossible to foresee. Although the
PPS counted on a considerable part of European leaders to
support it, yet it had many opponents who sympathized with
us as comrades in struggle but considered our tactics (in the
national question) erroneous.11 The article emphasized the
conviction of the European parties that only a bourgeois or
petty-bourgeois movement could be the carrier of patriotic slogans,
but that it was difficult for them to imagine our situation which
forces the working class to take up demands which in their
countries had been resolved by middle-class democracy. As proof
of it, Przedwit quoted the leader of the Italian socialists, Fi
lippo Turati, who, when his support for the PPS independence
resolution at the London Congress was being sollicited, said :
The Polish socialists should not concern themselves with
independence just as the Italian socialists do not support the
irredentists who want to separate Trieste and Trentino from
The text of the resolution was sent to the European socialist
press and personally to the most prominent representatives of the
labour movement together with appropriate comments. The acid
test came when the resolution was moved at the international
meeting convened in London on February 1, 1896, the tenth

10 J. P isudski fro m L ondon to W ork ers C e n tral C om m ittee (h ere

a f te r : CKR) of th e P P S in Poland. N iepodlego, vol. XV, 1937,
p. 426.
11 International Socialist Congress in London, P rzed w it, vol. VI,
1896, No. 6, pp. 1- 2.
12 Ibidem .

anniversary of the hanging of four members and leaders of the

Proletariat Party at the Warsaw Citadel.13 Present at the meeting
were outstanding British and German socialists. Speeches were
made by Harry Quelch, Tom Mann, Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Eduard
Bernstein, Friedrich Lessner. The meeting unanimously voted the
text of the PPS resolution for the London Congress.14
It seemed that the first step to assure international support
for the PPS resolution had been taken. Soon others followed :
the PPS leadership abroad approached a group of leaders of the
2nd International for a statement for the PPS publication Pa
mitka Majowa 1896 [May 1896 Memoir] destined for the PPS in
all the parts of Poland under occupation. A special request
concerned their attitude towards the struggle of the Polish
workers for freedom against the Russian tsarist rule.
Contributions were sent in by leaders of the 2nd International.
From England : Edward Aveling, Tom Mann, Harry Quelch ; from
Belgium : Louis Bertrand ; from France : Paul Argyriades, Louis
Dubreuilh, Jules Guesde, Jean Jaurs, Alexandre Millerand, Paula
Mink, Edouard Vaillant ; from Germany : Eduard Bernstein, Frie
drich Lessner (both still in exile in England), Wilhelm Liebknecht,
Julius Motteler ; from Italy : Antonio Labriola ; among the Russian
leaders : Pavel Axelrod and Pyotr Lavrov.15 Some of them, such
as Mann, Bernstein, Liebknecht and Labriola, came out clearly in
support of Polands independence.
Yet, from the very first weeks of the efforts to assure the
international support for the PPS resolution, clouds began to
gather over the whole question. Jules Guesde, leader of the French
Workers Party, on learning from Kelles-Krauz about the draft
resolution, cried : But its impossible ! Stop it. An international
congress cannot pass anything like that, cannot change the map
of Europe. If this resolution were taken seriously by the govern

13 L. W a s i l e w s k i , M idzynarodw ka Robotnicza w obec h asa n ie

podlegoci P olski [W orkers International and the Slogan o f P olands
In d ep en d en ce], N iepodlego, vol. II, 1930, p. 33.
14 Ibidem , and B ulletin O fficiel du P a rti S ocialiste P o lo n ais, vol. V,
1896, No. 8, p. 9 (LA n n iv ersaire des Q u atre s M artyrs. A n g leterre).
15 P am itka M ajow a 1896. W yd a w n ictw o P olskiej P artii S o cja listyczn ej
spod trzech zaborw [1896 M ay M em oir. P ublication of the Polish Socialist
P arty u nder the T hree P a rtitions], London 1896. P rin tin g H ouse of th e
F oreign L eague of Polish Socialists.

m ents, th ere would be only one resu lt : th e renew al of th e Holy

Alliance of th re e em perors against Poland, and th is w e consider
a m ost dangerous thing for E uropean socialism .16
So the m atte r concerned not only ideological priorities b u t
also purely political im plications, fears of changing th e m ap of
Europe ; they w ere probably upperm ost in the m inds of th e
leaders of W est-European social-dem ocratic parties.
According to K elles-K rauz, G uesde m ostly em phasized th a t
th e international p ro letariat could not and w ould not assum e
responsibility for an arm ed insurrection in Poland, stim ulated by
its sym pathy, to break out suddenly ; its suppression would h a m p e r
th e advance of socialism and could provoke a E uropean w ar. I e x
plained to him th a t w e are not crazy and would not cause th e
outb reak of an uprising w ithout pro p er conditions for in tern atio
n a l revolution ; th a t we are arousing th e w orkers consciousness
w hich is now our only w ay to independence, and th a t we are
aw aiting fu tu re events in o rd er to m ake use of th e o p p ortunity
and so th a t we are behaving as does any socialist p a rty in Euro
pe in th e m atte r of any political aspiration. The eventualities are
tw ofold : eith er a general R ussian m ovem ent for a constitution
w hich then could not be the sam e for the w hole of Russia ; or an
outside m ovem ent of th e E uropean p ro le taria t w hich th e tsa rist
governm ent w ould oppose. He said th a t he agreed absolutely w ith
th e la tte r argum ent and th a t th e E uropean p ro letariat would th e n
reb u ild Poland as a dam against tsarism .
A ll the tim e I em phasized th a t th e w hole question was w ith
us a m atte r not of p atriotic feelings b u t th e w orkers class
in te rests [ ...]. W hen I added th a t L iebknecht had helped in th e
d raftin g of the m otion and th a t, w ith him , th e whole G erm an
social-dem ocratic p a rliam en tary group w as favourable to it, w hich
su rp rised him very m uch, he seem ed som ew hat convinced.17
T h at insistence on th e p a rt of K elles-K rauz th a t th e w hole
question is a m a tte r not of p atriotic feelings b u t th e w orkers class
in te re sts reflected m ore his personal view s th a n those of th e
whole of th e PPS. The rig h t w ing of the party , led by Jzef

16 K. Kelles-Krauz from Paris, March 15, 1896, to ZZSP Central Board

in London (CA KC PZPR, 305/VII/50, c. 38-39.
17 Ibidem, c. 39 - 40.

Pisudski, clearly staked their hopes on preparing, given favourable

circumstances, an anti-Russian uprising in the Polish Kingdom.
It was meant rather as an act accompanying a European war
which was thought to break out sooner or later.
The sceptical reaction of French socialist leaders to the PPS
draft congress resolution prompted even more strenuous efforts
towards winning the support of other parties.
On April 24, 1896, the secretary of the Central Board of the
ZZSP, Bolesaw Antoni Jdrzejowski, approached the Italian
philosopher and socialist thinker, Antonio Labriola, who had
earlier, in the May Memoir, shown himself as a supporter of
the idea of Polands independence ; Jdrzejowski asked for the
support of the Italian Socialist Party for the PPS motion for
the London Congress.18 He presented the motion as a continuation
of the attitude of the 1st International towards Poland, particu
larly of its Geneva Congress of 1866, and as a blow to the petty-
bourgeois radical patriots.19 Jdrzejowski assured Labriola that
he had already won the support of Liebknecht and the parlia
mentary group of SPD in the Reichstag as well as that of the
Belgian, English, and Bulgarian comrades. Now we are under

18 A. L a b r i o l a , K orespondencja [C orrespondence], W arszaw a 1966,

pp. 491 -495. [L abriola's correspon dence w ith B. A. J d rze jo w sk i, 1895 - 1897,
w ith in troduction by F. Tych, pp. 473 - 561].
19 Ibidem , p. 492. T he m a tte r w as not alw ays d ealt w ith q u ite clean ly
by th e P P S rig h t w ing in the ZZSP C e n tral Board. A p art from criticizing
th e essence of Rosa L u x em b u rg s view s and w ishing to in flu en ce L abriola
ad v e rsely a priori, it did not sh irk unsavoury insin u atio n s. B etw een the
lines of one of his le tte rs B. A. Jd rzejo w sk i hin ted to L ab rio la th a t
th e fact th a t th e list containing the nam es of persons w an te d by th e tsa rist
gen d arm erie, obtained by the PPS , did not show th a t of Rosa L u x em b u rg
w as no accident. T hough, as is w ell know n, the SD K P alw ay s cham pioned
the idea of th e rev o lu tio n ary ov erth ro w of tsarism and th e b u ilding of
a dem ocratic republic on its ruins, Jdrzejow ski inform ed L ab rio la about
th e p redilection (of th e SDKP) for a constitution al R u ssian m onarchy
(A. Labriola, K orespondencja, le tte r of 5.5.1896, ib id em , pp. 497 -502).
He also m isinform ed him about the tru e ch a ra c te r of w o rk e rs dem on
stratio n s in Russia, b elittlin g th e ir significance in o rd e r to convince L a
briola th a t th e re w as re a lly no reaso n to count on th e rev o lu tio n ary
m ovem ent in R ussia and the possibility of its overth ro w in g th e ru le of
tsarism . K. K elles-K rauz often protested to th e ZZSP C e n tra l B oard ag a in st
su ch m ethods in discrediting th e SDKP. H e defended th e view th a t they
w ere u nw o rth y of the P P S and th a t in any arg u m e n t w ith th e SD K P only
th e m e rits of the cause should be discussed.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 107

taking appropriate efforts among the French, and at the same

time we would like to ask you for help from the Italian
After his experience with Guesde and in order not to frighten
Labriola that by demanding the independence of Poland the PPS
wants to shape up the political map of Europe, he tried to calm
him by saying that in reality the question concerned only the
Russian-occupied part and that even there it was not a matter
of the immediate future, because there must first arise favourable
circumstances with the crucial condition of the tsarist rule
threatening the international proletariat.21 In other words, PPS
would cause a rising against the tsarist regime only when Western
Europe would be in danger.
Labriola wrote back that he would propagate and support the
resolution with all his strength but that he doubted whether
it would obtain the support of the leadership of the Italian party.
Here utopian internationalism is still being wooed. So he
suggested that he would write an article justifying the PPS
resolution in the theoretical organ of the Italian socialists, the
Critica Sociale. He also wanted to find support for the resolution
in France, although he saw objections there, too I have just
w ritten to Georges Sorel (Devenir Social) asking him to sound
the mood in France. You know very well that nowadays many
French socialists posture as Russophiles.22
During all this diplomatic bustle there came an event which
no one had foreseen : on April 29 and May 6, 1896, two issues of
the theoretical organ of the German social democratic party Die
Neue Zeit published an article by Rosa Luxemburg which dealt
with the attitude of the Polish labour movement towards indepen
dence. The article was headlined Neue Strmungen in der polni-

2 0 A. L a b r i o l a , K orespondencja, p. 493.
21 "A lth o u g h the independence of th e co u n try is also of ex tre m e
im p o rta n ce to the p a rts u n d er the P ru ssia n and A u strian o ccupation
w ro te J d rz ejo w sk i, it is sim ply a m a tte r of life to th e R ussian p a rt
an d its socialism ; the decisive b a ttle m u st be w aged th ere. Of course, w e
w a n t to choose th e rig h t m om ent ourselves, and the best w ould be w h en
th e in te rn a tio n a l p ro le ta ria t and th e freedom of W estern E urope are
th re a te n e d by R ussian tsa rism . (Ib id e m , pp. 493 - 494).
22 Ib id em , p. 496.

schen sozialistischen Bewegung in Deutschland und Oesterreich,

and was written from a position alien to that of the PPS.23
For the PPS, which was seeking support of European socialist
leaders for their resolution, the surprise was twofold : first, the
SDKP, the party of the Polish social-democrats, and its ideology
had been considered non-existent ; secondly, no one thought that
Ra, persecuted by the PPS, almost eliminated by them
from the previous, Zurich Congress of the 2nd International in
1893, had access to the leading theoretical socialist journal in the
world. Nobody suspected that the article would launch a great
international press discussion about the Polish question.
In her article Rosa Luxemburg reminded her readers that up
to the beginning of the 1890s the socialist movement in Poland
and the independence drive were two different political directions.
Lately, a new trend surfaced in the Polish socialist movement,
which she called social-patriotic, and which tried to combine
the independence slogans with the socialist movement, referring
to the old sympathies manifested by Marx and Engels for the
Polish national-liberation efforts. But since then, argued the author
of the article, the social and political situation in Europe had
changed so much that referring to Marxs attitude had become
ahistorical. A monstrous crime has been committed on Poland,
all nations should be free, but not everything that is desired
is by the same token possible, and not everything that is possible
by itself is also possible especially for the proletariat.
The basic argument of the article was as follows : the slogan
of the rebuilding of independent Poland is utopian because it is
contrary to the objective direction of socio-economic development,
and hence is unacceptable to a socialist party whose doctrine rests
on the principle of the consistence of its purpose with the objective
tendencies in social development. How, according to the author,
do these objective tendencies look ? The Polish propertied
classes in all the three partitions are loyal towards the occupiers.
This results from the economic interests of those classes, of their
almost complete switch to trade and industrial relations with the

23 R. L u x e m b u r g , N eue Str m u n g en in der polnischen so zialistischem

B ew egung in D eutschland und O esterreich, N eue Z eit, 1896, A p ril 19.
No. 32, pp. 176-181. May 6, No. 33, pp. 206-216.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 109

economic territory of the appropriate partitioning state. The

economic relations between the three parts of Poland are so
insignificant that they cannot be reckoned with in the economic
life of those parts. These are the objective tendencies which arise
beyond the will and influence of the proletariat.
The proletariat ought to fight for the elimination of states as
institutions of social and political oppression in general, hence also
states which have carried out the partition of Poland. But before
it happens, it cannot strive for the fragmentation of the existing
states for this would atomize the labour forces. And everything
which leads to the fragmentation of workers threatens their cause.
The only way of effective struggle for all the interests of the
Polish workers lies for the Polish socialists (in the Prussian and
Austrian parts) in a common political programme with the Ger
man and Austrian social-democrats and, by accepting the existing
state borders as a fait accompli, to give up the utopia of creating
a Polish class state with the help of the proletariat. Only in this
way can they speed up the moment when the proletariats final
victory will completely liberate the Polish nation.
Thus, the author of the article defended the idea of preserving
the current territorial form of both the German and the Austrian
state as long as it was not possible to abolish the institution of the
capitalist state as such. Naturally, before this happened she would
prefer to see them as states in which all the constituent nations
enjoyed equal rights. She considered this the target for which the
Polish proletariat should struggle at this stage together with the
proletariat of the partitioning powers.
She did not mention at all the existence of the PPS London
resolution. It seemed as if her article were written without any
connection with that document.24 Was it really so ? This astonish
ing coincidence in time could not be accidental.
Rosa Luxemburgs article upset the leadership of the PPS.
It had appeared in the publication of the most influential party

24 She w ro te th e follow ing note to the la st sentence of h er a rticle :

W hen this a rtic le w as alre ad y w ritte n , w e received the d ra ft resolution,
p u blished in Le P a r ti O u v rier, the P a ris organ of th e A llem anites, w hich
is to be p re se n te d a t the L ondon in te rn a tio n a l congress by, of course,
th e social p a trio ts, an d w hich claim s th a t the reb u ild in g of P oland is
necessary in th e in te re st of the p ro le ta ria t.
110 F E L IK S TY CH

in the 2nd International, considered the leading theoretical

Marxist journal in the world ; its arguments could easily have
been listened to by the European socialist opinion, while creating
a sort of moral alibi for those among the German and Austrian
socialists who were ill-disposed towards the PPS resolution,
because the arguments against that resolution came from Polish
From Italy, from Labriola came messages that the article in
Neue Zeit had seemed convincing to the leaders of the Italian
socialist party and that it had made difficult their winning over
to the PPS resolution. Labriola also wrote that he had tried to
recommend the PPS resolution in the Critica Sociale, the
theoretical biweekly of the Italian party, but the only result was
that on the following pages of that same issue its editor, the
prominent Italian socialist Filippo Turati, criticized both the
resolution and Labriolas recommendation.25 Moreover, Victor
Adler, a friend of Labriola and leader of the Austrian socialists,
would not reply to his letters requesting a public support for the
Polish resolution.26 Also unsuccessful were his efforts to gain the
support for the PPS resolution of Gregorio Agnini, one of the
pioneers of the Italian socialist movement, chairman of the socialist
parliamentary group.
Unaffected by all this and deeply believing in the idea of
Polands independence, Labriola was still trying to win support
for the PPS resolution. But everywhere he hit a stone wall of
reluctance. As no declaration for the resolution was forthcoming
from Adler, he asked him at least to publish his paper in the
Critica Sociale, in the Vienna social-democratic journal the
Arbeiter-Zeitung, but Adler refused to do even that. On May 22,
he wrote to Labriola that la chose polonaise a pris un charactre
un peu verw ickelt and I cannot just simply publish your
A week later Labriola received from Paris still less comforting
news from Georges Sorel. The latter wrote quil n y avait aucune
25 T ex t of L ab rio las le tte r of recom m endatio n to th e e d ito rs of
C ritica S ociale and th e ir original rep ly in C ritica S ociale, 16.5. 1896.
26 A. L abriola from Rome, May 11, 1896, to B. A. J d rzejo w sk i, Ko
respondencja, p. 510.
27 A. L a b r i o l a , K orespondencja, p. 515.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E ST IO N . 1896 lit

chance d'intresser les socialistes franais en ce moment la

question polonaise. Monsieur Dville nest pas partisan de sou
m ettre cette affaire au congrs."
One of the founders of the Italian socialist party, Leonido
Bissolati, declared outright : We share the opinion contained in
the articles of Rosa Luxemburg because they appeared in the
Neue Zeit that is in the organ of scientific socialism which
expresses the official opinion of the German social-democrats.29
And when Labriola tried to explain the matter, he replied :
I value your information very much but I think that the
arguments of Rosa Luxemburg remain valid and irrefutable.30
Soon, the Italian party invited Rosa Luxemburg to expound
her criticism of the PPS resolution in the Critica Sociale to
the Italian socialists. Her article La questione polacca al congresso
internationale di Londra appeared there on July 16, 1896.31
Bad news was still flowing from Labriola : when he tried
to gain the support of Pablo Iglesias, the sometime founder
of the Spanish branch of the 1st International, the leader of
the Spanish socialists, he replied that in his opinion the Polish
resolution should not be accepted.32
Moved by this kind of news, Jzef Pisudski, who at the time
was in London, in the foreign leadership of the PPS (Central
Board of the ZZSP), wrote home :
I am increasingly apprehensive about the fate of the motion.
Labriola is sparing no effort, he writes letters every few days
and has sent an article to Critica Sociale about it, but Turati,
blast him, added to it a note with quotations from Rosa Luxem
burgs article in Neue Zeit. The Frenchman Sorel, whom La
briola had approached on the matter, replied that the French will
not probably understand what it is about. The motion will
certainly be carried but it would not look nice if it were amended
or if it encountered a strong opposition.33

28 Ib id em , p. 516 (at th e tim e, G ab rie l D ville w as one of th e leading;

F re n ch socialists).
29 Ib id em , p. 517.
30 Ib id em , p. 529.
31 No. 14, pp. 217 - 220.
32 A. L a b r i o l a , K orespondencja, p. 518.
33 N iepodlego, vol. XV, 1937, p. 129.

The PPS leaders were disturbed by the fact that Rosa Luxem
burgs article in Neue Zeit not only functioned politically but
was also an obvious emanation of the views harboured by many
West-European socialists.
It was time to devise some counter-action to the article.
Thanks to the good offices of Ignacy Daszyski, the leader of
Polish socialists in Galicia, the Austrian part of Poland (the party
itself was an autonomous part of the Austrian social-democracy),
the Central Board of the ZZSP succeeded in causing Victor Adler,
to write to his friend Karl Kautsky, editor of Neue Zeit, a letter
of intervention. I have just read the extremely untimely
laboration of Comrade Luxemburg . . he
", wrote on May 13.
Privately he added a remark which would not have pleased the
inspirers of his intervention : I am afraid that the unnecessary but
harmless Polish resolution for London may, thanks to her, blow
up into an affair [ . . .4]3Austria,
" one of the partitioning powers,
was also a party in this matter and Adler was not indifferent to
the interests of his country. That is why the PPS resolution seemed
to him unnecessary. Formally, it concerned only the Russian-
occupied part, but Adler must have been aware that any changes
in the Polish question in the Russian-occupied part immediately
affected the interests of the other two partitioning powers. That
political leap into the unknown was becoming increasingly
unacceptable to the socialist parties in Austria and Germany,
and to some others as well. It was no accident that even earlier
Adler could not, or perhaps would not, try and win official
support for the PPS draft resolution at the congress of the
Austrian social-democratic party convened in April 1896 in Prague.
Despite the fact that it was precisely Ignacy Daszyski who was
the rapporteur in the m atter of the preparations to the London
Congress, the whole thing boiled down to his reading out the text
of the PPS resolution during his report on the preparations to the
Congress. The resolution was neither discussed nor voted, nor
supported by the convention.35

34 V. A d l e r , B riefw ech sel m it A u g u st Babel und. K arl K a u tsky .

G esa m m elt und erleu tert vo n Friedrich A dler, W ien 1954, p. 207.
35 F ifth congress of th e social-dem ocratic p a rty in P rague, N aprzd,
A p ril 23, 1896, No. 17, p. 2.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 113

This was another blow because the Central Board of the ZZSP
counted on Daszyski and his influence on Adler, the leader of the
Austrian socialists.36
Although in the letter to Kautsky, quoted before, Adler
announced his forthcoming reply to Rosa Luxemburgs article in
Neue Zeit, but in the event he did not do even that. Neue Zeit
published only an article, sent in with his blessing, written by
Samuel (Emil) Haecker, one of the leaders of the Polish Social-
Democratic Party in Galicia. This text appeared in the issue of
June 3, four weeks after the last instalment of R. Luxemburgs
Haeckers article was rather a polemical credo in an independ
enceof Polandspirit than a matter-of-fact reply demolishing
point by point all the arguments of Rosa Luxemburg. Among other
things Haecker wrote that the independence of Poland is in
absolute harmony with socialist demands37 and that it was not
a utopian demand. But he did not engage in any concrete arguments
as to the means which in the situation then obtaining would
lead to the regaining of independence. He rightly pointed out that
R. Luxemburgs economic arguments rested on brittle foundations :
she absolutised the primacy of economics over politics and the
integrating role of the modern capitalist development. But it
was just the part of his reasoning which, considering the articles
addressees, could have been vital that Haecker treated somewhat
lightly. He calmed the qualms of the German and Austrian
comrades arguing that contrary to R. Luxemburgs diagnosis, the
unity of the PPS in all the three partitions would not loosen
the bonds between PPS-D of Galicia and the Austrian socialists
or between PPS in the Prussian-occupied part and the SPD.38
36 As concerns the motion, it w ill probably be passed, now D aszyski
w ill w o rk on the A ustrian s. T h ere w ill be a C ongress th e re on A pril 5,
an d he w ill re p o rt on the subject of the (London) C ongress, w ro te J. P i
sudski from London to th e n atio n al organisation of th e PPS . (L etter of
M arch 24, 1896, N iepodlego X III, 1936, p. 469).
37 S. H a e c k e r , Der Sozialism us in Polen, N eue Z eit, J u n e 3, 1896,
No. 37, pp. 3 2 4 -3 3 2 ; let us recall w h a t Engels w rote in 1892, th re e y ears
before his death, in th e in tro d u c tio n to th e new P olish ed itio n of the
C o m m u nist M anifesto : . . . the independence of P oland is ju st as m uch
needed by th e w o rk e rs of th e re st E urope as by th e P olish w o rk e rs.
(M arks i E ngels o Polsce [M arx and Engels on Poland], vol. II, W arsza
w a 1960, pp. 205 - 206).
38 S. H a e c k e r , Der S o zialism us in Polen . . . , pp. 324 - 332.

8 A cta P oloniae H istorica 46

All in all, Haeckers article purely declarative and weakly

argumented, which was reportedly dictated by Daszyski and
Victor Adler, was not a convincing reply to R. Luxemburg.
On June 6, 1896, the long-expected talks between the foreign
leadership of the PPS and Liebknecht were held. Great hopes
had been pinned on these talks. It was thought that Liebknecht
would be able, thanks to his prestige, to break down the resistance
of other prominent European socialists to the Polish resolution.
After the big workers meeting in London on that day in honour
of the venerable old leader, B. A. Jdrzejowski, who spoke good
German, invited him and Karl Marxs daughter and son-in-law,
Eleanor and Edward Aveling, together with prominent German
socialist activists in exile, Julius Motteler (the famous red
postmaster in the times of the emergency laws against socialists
in Germany) and Friedrich Lessner, and described the situation.
As he wrote later to Kelles-Krauz, at his (Liebknechts) request,
I wrote down everything we know from you and Labriola about
the unfavourable attitude of the French, and he solemnly promised
that he would persuade them out of it. Here I must add that the
Germans (Liebknecht and Motteler) consider our motion of great
importance precisely because of the French, for they think, rightly,
that the passing of that motion by the congress will be the best
manifestation against the Franco-Russian alliance. Finally, Lieb
knecht promised to second our motion at the congress in a special
speech on behalf of the German party. Briefly, we could not
wish for anything better as concerns Liebknechts visit.39
According to Jzef Pisudski, who was present at the convers
ation, Liebknecht said also that he will be proud to defend the
PPS motion at the congress and prior to it, that he would write
an article on this m atter in the central organ of the German party,
the Berlin daily Vorwrts, and at the end gave a toast : Noch
ist Polen nicht verloren.40
Towards the end of June, 1896, the fate of the motion was still
so uncertain that some PPS leaders seriously considered its with

39 B. A. Jdrzejo w sk i from London, Ju n e 16, 1896, to K. K elles-K rau z

in P aris. CA KC PZPR , 305/I I /22, book V III, c. 211.
40 J. P isudski from London, Ju n e 9, 1896, to CKR P PS in P oland,
N iepodlego, vol. XV, 1937, p. 426.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 115

drawal.41 The attitude of the French was the most perplexing.

The leading French socialists, Jules Guesde, Edouard Vaillant
and Paul Lafargue, became the object of earnest efforts on the
part of both PPS and Polish socialdemocrats. Liebknecht came
to Paris earlier and went to stay with Lafargue who, as you know,
is the least favourably inclined towards us among the Guesdites ;
sometimes ago he brought Rosa (Luxemburg) to the sitting of
the Conseil National. In view of this, please write quickly what
have you decided with him and whether he has undertaken to
influence the Guesdites in any way as concerns our question ?,
alerted Kelles-Krauz from Paris the Central Board of the ZZSP.42
Shortly before the Congress in London he complained : Generally
speaking, there will be difficulties with the Guesdites. It is too
much for them to understand our programme. As concerns
Guesdites, Dubreuilh told me expressly that we have opponents
in them. [...] As concerns Blankistsand probably the Allemanites
share their viewsthey seem to have utopian internationalism in
common with the Italians. I talked with Dubr[euilh] : he cannot
understand that we want to gain independence before introducing
socialism as a stage, a minimum, although Ive argued that after
all they want to abolish the senate, and the Belgians and Austrians
to gain general elections also before abolishing capitalism, although
socialism will bring complete political, not only national free
Two reasons motivated such a wary, sometimes downright
critical attitude of the leaders of West-European social-democrats
towards the PPS independence resolution. One could be called
doctrinal. It was apprehended that national slogans might
obscure the image of class and social contradictions ; that they
might disturb the process of the workers political emancipation.
It was thought that they could become a bridge towards the
workers on the part of various non-socialist or even hostile trends ;
that they might distract the workers attention from their main

41 J. P isu d sk i from London, J u n e 25, 1896, to CK R in Poland, ibidem ,

vol. XVI, 1937, pp. 502-503.
42 K. K elles-K ra u z fro m P aris, J u n e 10, 1896, to ZZSP C entral B oard
in London, CA KC P ZPR , 305/VII/50, c. 74.
43 K. K elles-K rau z, J u n e 29, 1896, from P a ris to ZZSP C e n tral Board
in London, ibidem , c. 82.

goal : class struggle for their own social liberation. This was often
mixed with attitudes more rooted in sentiment than precise
strategy. They could be termed, after Otto Bauer, naive cosmo
politism or, according to Kelles-Krauz, utopian internationalism.
It was generally felt that the task of the Socialist International
should be the abolishing of national barriers between the workers
of various countries ; it should not concern itself with the founding
of new states or the establishment of new nations. The world was
divided into two camps, according to the dichotomy : International
of the proletarians and international of the capitalists.
The other reason, though connected with the first, had really
a different origin and different predominant features. It resulted
from the gradual integration of the West-European social-
democrats with the existing state structures ; this surfaced
drastically and unexpectedly for many people at the outbreak of
World War I, but had been ripening for years as also did the
turning of European socialist organisations from avant-garde
groups into mass parties. It was an attitude which was perhaps
best and most succinctly expressed by the leader of the French
socialist left, Jules Guesde, in the conversation with Kazimierz
Kelles-Krauz, mentioned before : fear of any change in the state
boundaries in a stabilised Europe.44
These two motivations could be seen in various patterns,
various components. They were a mixture of orthodox resentments
and quite modern political conditioning.
In the latter part of June there appeared in Paris the next
issue of Sprawa Robotnicza, the journal of the SDKP, edited
by Rosa Luxemburg, and revived after more than a year ; it
featured the text of a resolution on the national question for the
London Congress, this time drafted by the SDKP. Now the
Congress had the choice of either adopting or dismissing the PPS
resolution, as well as the choice between one or the other Polish
resolution. The SDKP motion, doubtless written by Rosa Luxem
burg, contained the same arguments as her April-May article in
44 A bout the analysis of th e a ttitu d e s of the 2nd In tern atio n al to w ard s
th e n atio n al question see F. T y c h , K la ssen k a m p f und nationale Frage
in der Z e it der II. Internationale, in : In ternationale T agung der H isto riker
d er A rb eiterb ew eg u n g (XI, L inzer K onferenz, 1975), W ien 1978, pp. 238 -
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 117

Neue Zeit. Jzef Pisudski estimated on the spot that this

motion is against us and says that the rebuilding of Poland before
the social revolution is a pipedream, and that it will naturally
follow the revolution. He also warned that, although Rosa Luxem
burg had received a mandate for the London Congress from Polish
workers in the Prussian partition, the PPS would not accept her
as a member of the Polish delegation.45
That counter-resolution, as Sprawa Robotnicza called it,
proposed by the SDKP, proclaimed, among other things, that the
ultimate overthrow of national oppression can be gained only
through the overthrow of the capitalist orderthe source of all
oppression ; hence the most effective means of gaining national
liberation is the strengthening of international solidarity of
workers in all the countries and the unity of workers in every
state irrespective of national differences, in order to conduct
a joint political action based on class struggle.46
SDKP was not sure whether its standpoint would find support
with the International ; neither did it know if the PPS resolution
had any and whose backing. So it spared no effort to explain the
reasons of the Polish movements internationalist wing to the
leaders of the International. This was the purpose of another
article by Rosa Luxemburg which appeared in Neue Zeit early
in July, and which was formally a reply to Haeckers article.
Rosa, wrote Pisudski in a letter, has again published an
article in Neue Zeit against us, an article full of figures and
economics, definitely better written than the first, and directed
mainly against the social patriots in the Russian part. Our reply
will not reach Congress in time, so we shall wait for what the
Congress has to say in this matter, and then, accordingly, we
shall either raise our voice or simply refute Miss Rosas
To a reader even slightly familiar with party literature and
the language of socialist propaganda of the time the very heading
45 J. P isu d sk i from London, Ju n e 25, 1896, to CK R P P S in P oland,
N iepodlego, vol. XVI, 1937, p. 500.
46 A rticle D wie rezolucje [Two Resolutions], S p raw a R obotnicza,
Ju n e 1896, No. 24. R eprinted in : Socjaldem okracja Krlestwa Polskiego
i L itw y . Materiay i d o ku m e n ty, vol. I, p a rt 1, pp. 435 -436.
47 J. P isu d sk i, Ju ly 15, 1896, from L ondon to CK R P P S in Poland,
N iepodlego, vol. X V II, 1938, pp. 49 - 50.

of her article : Social-Patriotism in Poland, conveyed the idea of

a foregone assessment of the direction represented by the PPS.
For in the opinion of those times, social-patriotism was a mixture,
indigestible for a Marxist, which tried to combine orthodox
socialism with an ideology which originated outside the labour
camp and ought to have remained alien to it.
This time the author did not beat about the bush, did not
try to create appearances that her article had no connection with
the London resolution. On the contrary. Bit by bit, she critically
analysed the text of the PPS resolution. Where in her previous
article she spoke about the Prussian and Austrian partitions, she
now concerned herself with the proper area of PPS activity that
is the Russian part.
She indicated what, in her opinion, had changed since the old
Marxian strategy in the Polish question : then Russian bayonets
were threatening democratic Europe, and the Polish liberation
struggles erected a barrier between Europe and those bayonets,
while now the extremely reactionary political system of Russia
was looming over Europe, and could not be solved by the Polish
liberation efforts ; here only socio-political changes in Russia itself
could be of decisive influence. The Russian working class, which
was growing in strength in step with the advance of capitalism
guarantees the annihilation of absolutism from within. All the
more so as the social image of the Polish lands had thoroughly
changed since the national uprisings in effect of this selfsame
advance of capitalism ; the Polish bourgeoisie now saw its future
in access to the Russian markets and that was why it subjects
itself to foreign rule ; the gentry, on the other hand, once the
vanguard of the Polish society, now trails behind the bourgeoisie,
and was economically ruined ; the peasantry has no political
image at all, and where it has its peculiar feature is still the
traditional hatred of the gentry and distrust towards every
national movement in which the peasant suspects a lordly
swindle ; the middle classes were diversified, some drew profits
from Russian markets and did not have any centrifugal tendencies,
some were threatened by big industry and those have become
the adopted fathers of the orphaned national aspirations ; finally,
the intelligentsia which in Poland came mostly from impoverished

g e n try and p e tty bourgeoisie th e R ussifying system m obilized

it to patrio tic stances because it im posed on it a foreign language
in schools and universities and blocked its careers, access to
offices and h ig h er arm y ranks. B ut it still had access to
professions, jobs in ind u stry and com m erce, and so th e young
intellectu al in revolt, on achieving professional stab ility in
a bourgeois society as a m atu re m an adopts the physiognom y of
th a t society and becomes sober and reasonable. T here rem ained
the p ro le taria t about which, as Rosa L uxem burg w rote, it could
be said : since th e ruling classes have deserted th e flag of state
independence, the p ro letariat should raise it. B ut these w ere only
appearances for the p ro le taria t could not act against the n a tu ra l
tre n d s in socio-economic developm ent as it would destroy its
historic m ission of the grave digger of th e capitalist system w hen
the la tte r exhausted its developm ent reserves. Hence th e general
conclusion th a t today in Poland th ere is no social class w hich
w ould be in terested in rebuilding Poland, and no force w hich
could support this in terest in practice. The process of organic
incorporation of the economic organism of th e Polish K ingdom
into th e R ussian state th u s w as not a dem and form ulated by
the Polish social-dem ocrats b u t only the ascertainm ent of an
objective process w hich a M arxist could not ignore. Yes, th e Polish
national rig h ts m ust be defended bu t in th e R ussian-occupied p a rt
the p ro le taria t could stand w atch over the endangered n atio n ality
only by fighting for political freedom in Russia.48
The tone and argum ents used by Rosa L uxem burg w ere exactly
w hat su ited best the m en tality of h e r addressees : leaders and
activists of W est-European socialist parties, and prim arily th e
G erm an social-dem ocrats. In h e r article she m ade use of the
m echanistic, n a tu ra l as it w ere M arxist in te rp re ta tio n w ith its
typical absolutisation of objective economic and social processes,
w hich w as a t th e tim e v ery popular in those circles. By this
token she provided a doctrinal alibi for th e d istru st of social-
-dem ocrats in independent E uropean countries tow ards any
national irredentists.

48 R. L u x e m b u r g , Der Sozialpatriotismus in Polen, Neue Zeit,

July 1, 1896, No. 41, pp. 459-470.

Several of her arguments would strike a critical reader : (i)

absolutisation of economic factors and their impact on political
attitudes ; (ii) overestimation of the importance of Russian markets
for the economy of the Polish Kingdom ; (iii) static view of the
attitudes of popular classes towards the national oppression, which
was in her interpretation dynamic only in historical perspective
(turned towards the past) ; (iv) omission of the role which could
be played by the national-liberation movement in the struggle
against the reactionary government (she was right in saying that
tsarism will be destroyed from within but she did not take into
account the possibility of the national-liberation movement being
one of the vital components of those internal forces which would
overthrow tsarism) ; (v) ignoring the fact that the elimination of
national oppression and life in an independent state clearly shows
up the social contradictions in ones own nation and thus favours
workers class struggle ; (vi) one-sided adoption of the variant
that the downfall of capitalism will take place on the existing
political map of Europe and that no changes will occur on it
before the victory of socialism. In her arguments, she petrified
the existing European pattern, made it permanent for the whole
capitalist era. Only socialism would create a new situation, also
for the Polish people.
Barely a week after the appearance of the article the most
important objections against Rosa Luxemburg were raised by
the man who opened for her access to the Neue Zeit that is
Karl Kautsky. Thus for the first time, except for Labriola, someone
outside the circle of Polish socialists took part in the pre-congress
discussion on the Polish question. It was not just anybody but
the man considered the pope of Marxism after the recent death
of Friedrich Engels. Even the title of his article was significant :
Finis Poloniae ?. He reminded the readers that since the Great
French Revolution the independence of Poland was a matter of
vital importance to the revolutionary parties in Europe ; It was
the most important of the international political tasks and of the
European revolution. The enemies of tsarism were the natural
allies of European revolution.49 But this situation remained un
49 K. K a u t s k y , Finis Poloniae ?, N eue Z eit, Ju ly 8, 1896, No. 42,
p. 484.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E ST IO N . 1896 121

changed so long as there existed a complete lack of revolutionary

class inside Russia and so long as the petty gentry was the most
politically active class in Poland itself. But since both in Russia
and in Poland the development of capitalism created the working
class, and the Russian revolutionary movement grew in interna
tional importance more than the Polish movement, the situation
underwent a change : the Polish question lost its extraordinary
international significance for the European revolution.
So far Kautskys arguments took the same line as Rosa Lu
xemburgs. But then followed a polemic. Kautsky declared that
the socialist movement believed in certain moral and political
principles which it must always put forward irrespective of
whether they could be realised under the existing political system
or not. The programme should express what it is that we demand
from the present society or state, not what we expect of them.
One of those demands was precisely the demand for national
freedom for the peoples deprived of it. Even should Polands
independence be absolutely impossible before the proletariat gains
political power, the London international congress could not be
charged with ridiculous utopianism for adopting the Polish
resolution just as the 1st International had not been for its Polish
Kautsky also undermined Luxemburgs concrete historical
arguments : he said that as industry developed in Russia so the
rivalry would grow between the Russian and Polish bourgeoisie
and the latter would, at least on these grounds, become more
accessible to the national idea that R. Luxemburg had dis
regarded the petty middle classes too much both concerning their
numbers and their impact of political pressure as well as their
attraction to matters of state. The same was true of the intel
ligentsia. Its attitude was static towards the peasants, not taking
into account the fact that the Polish peasant would become increas
ingly interested in the national question. In view of all these
facts, concluded Kautsky, we are very far from agreeing with
Miss Luxemburg that the national movement in Poland is a thing
of the past, without strong roots in the present, and that it is in
absolute contradiction with the trends of economic develop

Finally, Kautsky demolished Luxemburgs idea which had

probably provided the main motivation for her attitude : the
fear that the national fragmentation of the proletariat will
adversely affect its social, class struggle. It is possible, he argued,
that the natural gravitation of the Polish proletariat from all the
three partitions towards itself creates inconveniences, even dangers
for the socialist movement in Austria, Russia and Germany, that
it would certainly be better if there were only one centralised
organisation in each of these countries instead of the national
federalism that in practice existed inside the party, but after
all it is not from agitation for independence that stem the defects
of national federalism but precisely because of the lack of inde
All this indicated that the Polish proletariat was unable to
deploy all its forces in the practical struggle nor to round up its
organisation as long as Poland remained divided ; that only in
a united independent Poland would the Polish proletariat find the
basis needed for exercising in the state an influence appropriate
to its development.
Kautskys article coincided with the climax in efforts on the
part of the SDKP and PPS in the m atter of the Polish resolution
in view of the impending date of the Congress. For this reason
Rosa Luxemburg arrived in Paris from Switzerland on July 12.
Her visit had two goals : the publication of two numbers, 24 and
25 of Sprawa Robotnicza (the last issues of that paper, as it
turned out) so that they would appear in time for the Congress
and form an additional support for the delegates of the SDKP ;
and winning over the French socialists and the leading members
of Russian revolutionary exiles residing in Paris for the SDKP
stance and against the PPS resolution.
From Adolf Warski, with whom she was staying, she learned
that Paul Lafargue, one of the leading French socialists, son-in-law
of Karl Marx, had praised her several times for her article in
Neue Zeit, and that the mere fact of its appearance in that
paper had immensely impressed the French. Warski told her
that Jean Allemane, the leader of another trend in French
socialism, the Parti Ouvrier Socialiste Rvolutionnaire, had also
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 123

praised her warmly. Briefly, the whole of France is ours.50 But

she was apprehensive of the Russians. She was not sure of the
standpoint of old Pyotr Lavrov, known for his close ties with the
Polish socialist movement, a man of immense prestige, the leading
theoretician of the revolutionary narodnik movement. On the other
hand, she counted on he support of Ilya Rubanovich, who moved
in Lavrovs circle and was very much involved in the work of the
2nd International,51 as well as on that of the Paris correspondent
of SPD press, Boris Krichevsky, who, albeit grudgingly, wrote
an article supporting the attitude of the SDKP and published in
Leipziger Volkszeitung.52
Yet another personage was mobilised for the defence of SDKP
standpoint. It was a friend of Rosa Luxemburgs during her
studies in Switzerland, the later famous Alexander Helphand-
Parvus. He publisched his article The Polish Question in another
influential daily of the German social-democrats, the Schsische
Arbeiterzeitung edited by him in Dresden.53 The basic idea of the
article was contained in its very first sentence : The immediate
political goals of the social-democratic party are concerned not
with the atomisation of Europe but with its elimination. The
article was a polemic with Kautskys article and fully concurred
with the views of Rosa Luxemburg.
R. Luxemburg was not certain about the stance of George
Plekhanov, at the time the most influential of Russian Marxists.
True, for the past few years he had been at odds with Leon
Jogiches, the man closest to her, in Russian affairs ; he had also
written an article backing the slogan of Polands independence
for PPSs May 1896 Memoir (the article was late and appeared in
the April issue 1896 of Przedwit). Nevertheless, judging from
certain symptoms, she thought that he could support the counter
resolution of SDKP ; Plekhanov wishes to make peace with

50 R. L u x e m b u r g , L isty do Leona Jogichesa-T yszki [Letters to Leon

Jo giche s-T yszka ], collected and edited by F elik s Tych, vol. I, W arszaw a
1968, p. 115.
51 I do n o t know , if things w ill tu rn out w ell w ith L avrov, she
w rote. A dolf says th a t he is becom ing n e u tra l and is squibbling. B ut
R ubanow ich is ours as alw ays, an d m uch can be done w ith him ,
52 L eipziger V olkszeitung, Ju ly 23, 1896.
53 Schsische A rb e iterzeitu n g , J u ly 25, 1896.

usAnd why ? There are several reasons. (1) the effect of the
articles in Neue Zeit. (2) The beast sees that the resolution
of social-patriots will not pass and that ours is a protest against
tsarism. He has to vote for it and he understands that it will
pass in one form or another.54 Despite this, R. Luxemburg ex
pressed her fear that the Russsian delegation might not support
the point of view of the SDKP.55 Yet, after three days in Paris
and intense canvassing she wrote about the effects of her
diplomatic offensive almost euphorically : Things are almost
settled with Lavrov. Yesterday, I went to him twice. Our
relations are very cordial. He promised to give his answer today,
its nine-tenth certain hell sign. Then Im promised Jaurs almost
certainly. Immediately after obtaining Lavrovs signature we are
going to Vaillant. Lafargue, Im assured, he is tout m o i . . .
Ill see Allemane the day after tomorrow, theyre with us but
they must be strengthened. Last week, Milton [a Polish social-
democrat living in LondonF.T.] sent a good article to Justice.
We do not know yet, if it has been accepted. Tomorrow or the
day after the issue will be here. Today well write a short article
to Peuple, weve got our pals there [...] Im delighted with our
resolution.... It will be a triumph such as we do not need any
But things were not that smooth. On July 17, Rosa Luxemburg
saw Edouard Vaillant, the legendary member of the Paris Com
mune and the leader of the left wing of the French socialists,
primarily in order to obtain his backing for her serving on the
political commission of the London Congress ; the same commission
in which the two Polish resolutions were to be discussed. She
also counted on his signature under the SDKP resolution. Vaillant
was an influential man in the 2nd International. But he received
Rosa with less enthusiasm than she expected. He told her that
he wants to avoid a Polish discussion at the Congress and so he
is for the adoption of a resolution couched in general terms which
would be unanimously passed. But he would in no case allow

54 R. L u x e m b u r g , L isty do Leona J o g ic h e s a -T y s z k i. . . , le tte r of

Ju ly 13, 1896, p. 122.
55 Ibidem, p. 123.
56 L etter of Ju ly 15, 1896, ibidem, pp. 126 - 128.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1898 125

the PPS resolution.57 This was a lot but less than his signature on
the SDKP resolution which Luxemburg had hoped for.
In Paris R. Luxemburg learned about an anonymous article
published in three successive issues of the central organ of the
German social-democrats, the daily Vorwrts, headlined On the
Tactics of Polish Social-Democrats, written in the defence of the
PPS stance. She suspected the author to be Ignacy Daszyski.
Only later was she to learn that it had really been written by
Witold Jodko-Narkiewicz, one of the PPS leaders.58 It was
originally meant for Neue Zeit as a reply to the first series
of Luxemburgs articles. But then Haecker had reacted more
quickly than Jodko. The latters article appeared in Vorwrts
thanks to Wilhelm Liebknecht. It could seriously endanger
Luxemburgs efforts so, despite the Paris bustling around, three
days after the last instalment of Jodkos article, she sent a reply
to Vorwrts The last instalment of the other was on Satur
day, I wrote on Sunday, and today Ive sent it, she informed
Jogiches, who also had been alarmed by that article.59
None of them knew that even earlier a reaction to Jodkos
article in Vorwrts had come from none other than Georgi
Plekhanov. His article appeared on July 23, Luxemburgs two days
What elements did those texts introduce into the discussion ?
Jodkos article briefly outlined the history of the evolution of
the Polish labour movement from the stage exclusively inter
national up to the adoption in 1892 of the programme of the
rebuilding of independent Poland, and justified the latter. His
polemic with Rosa Luxemburg contained arguments similar to
those of Kautsky. But he additionally justified the separatism
of the Polish socialist movement by involving the weakness of
the revolutionary movement in Russia.
It is the last statement that caused Plekhanovs sharp reaction.60

57 L e tte r of Ju ly 17, 1896, ibidem, p. 129.

58 [W. J o d k o - N a r k i e w i c z ] , Z ur T a k tik der polnischen Sozialde
m okratie, V orw rts, 15 - 1 6 and J u ly 17, 1896, No. 163- 165.
59 R. L u x e m b u r g , Listy do Leona J o g ic h e s a -T y s z k i. .., le tte r of
J u ly 20, 1896, p. 132.
60 G. P lekhanov, Z u r T ak tik d er polnischen Sozialdem okratie, V or
w rts, Ju ly 23, No. 170.

He charged Jodko with a too pessimistic assessment of the

prospects for the socialist movement in Russia and gave it to under
standthinking of the SDKPthat there was a trend in the Polish
socialist movement, which did not share that pessimism. The recent
strike by scores of thousands of workers in St Petersburg, which
Jodko did not even mention in his article (Plekhanov did not know
that the article had been written before those strikes) indicated
that it was the trend in the Polish socialism represented by the
SDKP that was right about the prospects for a Russian revolution,
not the one represented by the author, hence the PPS.
The article by Plekhanov, who only recently in his contribution
to PPSs May Memoir declared his full support of revolutionary
Russia for the Polish national question, took the PPS leaders by
surprise. They were not aware that Plekhanov did not really change
his stance in the Polish question. He only changed his opinion of
the PPS, discouraged by its attitude towards the Russian move
ment reflected also in Jodkos article. Only less than a month
ago, when Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz reported his talk with the
French leader Dubreuilh concerning the support for the resolution,
he noted :
One thing impressed him strongly : when I told him that
Plekhanov was with us. According to him, there was nothing
strange in the Germans and Austrians backing us because their
political interest requires itagainst Russiabut the Russians,
that is something to think about.61
Thus Plekhanov was an important figure not just as himself
but also because his attitude could influence the French.
Rosa Luxemburgs reply to Jodkos article, published two
days after Plekhanovs, was extremely sharp.62 She blamed Jodko
for not understanding the very principle of the dominant trend
of social development in the doctrine of scientific socialism, and
his taking absolutely no account of that principle while outlining
the political goals of the proletariat. Next she charged him with

6 K elles-K rauz, Ju n e 29, 1890, from P a ris to Z Z SP C e n tral Board
in London, CA KC P Z PR , 305/VII/50, c. 82.
62 R. L u x e m b u r g , Z u r T a k tik der polnischen Sozialdem okratie,
V orw rts, Ju ly 25, 1896, No. 172. R ep rin ted in : R. L u x e m b u r g ,
G esam m elte W erke, B. I/1, B erlin 1970, pp. 5 2 -5 6 .
T H E P O L IS H Q U E ST IO N . 1896 127

identifying Russian tsarism with Russia as such, with her people,

the working class and their revolutionary potential. She also
maintained her opinion that the programme of winning an inde
pendent democratic Polish republic did not take at all into
account the countrys political and economic realities. In the
political practice it leads to the breakdown of the unity of action
of the Polish workers and those in their partitioning states.
Luxemburgs article appeared two days before the opening
of the London Congress and was the last in the pre-Congress press
discussion concerning the Polish resolution. The rest of the battle
was to be fought on the floor of the Congress.
On Monday, July 27, 1896, the delegates and guests of the
Congress gathered in the London Queens Hall which could
seat 2,000.
Among them were the leading representatives of the whole
alternative socialist universe. Present were delegates from nearly
all the European countries, North and South America, Australia.
At the time, the socialist movement was not divided internationally
into revolutionary and reformist trends, as it came to be after
World War I, when besides the Socialist International there existed
the Communist International. Moreover, next to socialists of
various shades the Congress was also attended (for the last time)
by anarchists.
Among those present were people whose names have gone
down in the history of the international labour movement. From
Germany came, among others, Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel,
Paul Singer, Eduard Bernstein, Clara Zetkin ; from Russia (or
rather from the Russian political exiles), among others, Georgi
Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod ; from Austria, Victor Adler, Karl
Kautsky and others ; from France e.g. Jules Guesde, Paul Lafar
gue, Jean Jaurs, Edouard Vaillant, Gabriel Dville, Alexandre
Millerand ; from England, among others, Sidney and Beatrice
Webb : Bernard Shaw, Henry Hyndman, Harry Quelch, Keir
Hardie, Tom Mann ; from Sweden Hjalmar Branting ; from
Belgium Emile Vandervelde.
The Polish labour movement was represented by : from the
PPS, among others, Ignacy Mocicki, Witold Jodko-Narkiewicz
and Jzef Pisudski (who had stayed abroad for the purpose of

atten d in g th e Congress) ; from P PS -D G alicja, Ignacy Daszyski ;

from SD K P, Rosa L uxem burg, Ju lia n M archlew ski, S tanislaw
W ojew ski (a Polish w orker from London) and Adolf W arski (the
P P S delegates succeeded in rejecting his credential).
The Congress agenda provided for th e following item s :
(1) A grarian Q uestion ; (ii) P olitical Action ; (iii) Economic and
In d u strial Action ; (iv) W ar ; (v) Education and Physical Develop
m ent ; (vi) O rganisation ; (vii) M iscellaneous Questions.
The national question was to be discussed under the item P o
litical A ction, and so had been first sent to th a t Commission.63
T h e Polish delegates sittin g on it w ere Jodko-N arkiew icz and Da
szyski. U ltim ately th ree m otions o r d raft resolution on the
Polish question w ere sent to th e Comm ission : th e P P S draft, the
SD K P d ra ft and the d raft of one of the English branches, the
Social-D em ocratic F ederation, resem bling the P P S standpoint and
proposing th a t Congress declare th a t th e question of P olands
autonom y and liberation from th e heinous oppression of Russia,
P russia and A ustria is in th e in terest of th e whole civilised world,
and th a t th e re should be a jo in t in tern atio n al agitation for the
absolute political liberation of Poland.64
One does not know , w rote P isudski in a letter, w hat will
come out of it. Possibly our m otion w ill be passed, although
perhaps in a changed form .65
B ut rea lity tu rn e d out to be quite different. The Congress
passed no separate resolution e ith e r in the Polish question or
th e national question in general. O nly in item th re e of the
Congress resolution concerning the political action of th e pro
le ta ria t one p aragraph m entioned th e rig h t to self-determ ination
of all th e oppressed nations :
The Congress declares in favour of the full autonom y of all
nationalities and its sy m pathy w ith th e w orkers of any country
a t p resen t suffering u n d er th e yoke of m ilitary, national or other
despotism s ; and calls upon the w orkers in all such countries to fall
into line, side by side w ith th e class-conscious w orkers of the world,

63 Verhandlungen und Beschlsse des Internationalen Sozialistischen

Arbeiter und Gewerkschaft-Kongresses zu London vom 27. Juli bis 1. Au
gust 1896, Berlin 1896.
64 Niepodlego, vol. XVII, 1939, p. 41.
65 Ibidem, p. 42, letter of June 6, 1896.

to organise for the overthrow of in te rn atio n a l capitalism and the

establishm ent of In tern atio n al Social-D em ocracy.66
The nam e of Poland was not even m entioned.
How did it come about th a t instead of a concrete resolution
draw ing th e atten tio n of th e w orld labour to th e situation of the
Polish nation and its struggle for independence, th e Congress
resolution contained only general form ulations w hich w ere sim ply
a com prom ise acceptable, as show n by th e voting, to all, b u t w hich
did not in the least degree indicate th e actual position occupied
by th e Polish question or th e national question in general ?
To a large e x te n t the reasons lay outside th e intrinsic signifi
cance of th e disputes concerning th is p a rticu la r m atter. F o r from
th e v e ry beginning th e discussion in the Political Commission
came u n d er the im pact of a question w hich had dom inated the
w hole London Congress : the g reat dispute betw een th e social-
dem ocrats and th e anarchists concerning th e very concept of
political struggle.
B ut th e dispute does not explain everything. It was th e general
a ttitu d e tow ards th e Polish resolution on the p a rt of th e m ost
in flu en tial leaders of th e 2nd In te rn atio n a l th a t was decisive.
In effect of various m otivations the tabling of this question did not
su it th e purpose of any of th e m ain p arties of the 2nd In te rn a
tional : th e French, G erm an, A ustrian n o r th e English delegation.
F o r none of these countries did th en question the existing political
m ap of Europe, w hile the process of integration of th e W est-
E uropean socialist parties w ith the existing political stru ctu res
in th e ir ow n countries was fairly advanced. The fates of the
resolution concerning P olands independence w as an exam ple of
it. It was a fact th a t even W ilhelm L iebknecht, who often declared
him self in favour of independence fo r Poland, and despite his
e a rlie r concrete prom ises, did not say a w ord supporting the
Polish resolution in th e political comm ission of w hich he was
a m em ber. As a m a tte r of fact, th e discussion in the commission
is not know n. There is no sh o rth an d report, and th e m inutes are
v ery brief. All we know is th a t th e d ra ft resolution subm itted

66 International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress, London

1896. Report of Proceeding, London, The Twentieth Century Press Ltd.
p. 31.

9 Acta Poloniae Historica 46

to the commission and drawn up by an unknown small group was

adopted without amendments. The PPS and PPS-D delegates,
Ignacy Daszyski and Witold Jodko-Narkiewicz, who served on
the Commission (SDKP had no representatives on it), had been
unable to cause even the name of Poland to be mentioned in the
resolution. Several days after the Congress, B. A. Jdrzejowski
wrote to Antonio Labriola that this had been due to the fact
th a t. . . the Poles could not find their way to the room where the
Commission was deliberating.
The most important was the task of the Political Action Com
mission, wrote Jdrzejowski. It was to make impossible the
repetition of the scandal with the anarchists. So only little time
could be devoted to our question. Since it was considered less
important, it was discussed at the first sitting of the Commission
with only the French, English and Danes present. The representa
tives of other nationalities (Poles, Russians, Germans, Italians,
Balkan Slavs, Austrians, etc.) did not even have time to find their
way to the room where the Commission was sitting ! It proved
impossible to return to the resolution at the next sittings, all the
more so during the Congress debate. History can be made this
way, too !67
At the Congress plenary session the question was equally
unlucky. Of the six days of deliberations three were wasted in
checking the mandates. Lots of time was consumed by the
obstructions used by the anarchists. Eventually, little time
remained for the Congress to deal with important essential
matters. They were in a frightful hurry, reported Pisudski,
they voted everything en bloc, closing the discussion at once so
that 12 speakers on political matters were immediately eliminated,
including ours who was to indicate that the resolution contained
also our motion. The reporter of the Commission for political
affairs remarked that it had considered that what was good for
Poland was equally desirable for all the peoples in the same
situation ; that is why the Commission had generalised our motion
and tabled the resolution adopted unanimously by the Congress.68

67 A. L a b r i o l a , Korespondencja, p. 542.
68 J. P isudski from London, Aug. 4, 1896, to C K R P P S in P oland,
N iepodlego, 1938, vol. X V II, p. 60.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 13 1

Unanimously. So the SDKP delegation as well as that of

the PPS voted for the resolution.
The question was tabled on Thursday, July 30, at the plenary
afternoon session. Immediately after the first tiff with the
anarchists, G. Lansbury read out the report of the Political Action
Commission and the Congress resolution proposed by it.69
The first paragraph of the resolution concerned the very notion
of the idea of political action by the proletariat (The Congress
declares that with the view of realising the emancipation of
workers, and enfranchisement of humanity and the citizen, and
the establishment of the International Socialist Republic, the con
quest of political power is of paramount importance.) It was not
until the third paragraph that mention was made of the attitude
towards the struggle of conquered peoples for their freedom ;
it contained the formula quoted earlier.70 Item four dealt with the
emancipation of women, item fifth and last of the resolution
denounced colonial policy.
Such was the political framework and the contexts of the
national question in the Congress resolution.
According to Daszyskis report from the Congress, published
in Cracow Naprzd, the political Commissions rapporteur justi
fied the reason for disregarding the resolution on Polands in
dependence arguing that not only Poles but also other nations
were suffering under the despotic rule of foreign masters, for
instance the French in Alsace and Lorraine, or the Armenians
torn between Russia, Turkey and Persia.71 Hence, when the matter
came to be discussed at the plenary session of the Congress, it
was no longer the Polish question but the generally treated
question concerning unnamed countries at present suffering
under the yoke of military, national or other despotisms. The
abandonment of the Polish resolution was questioned by no one
at the Congress. None of the Polish delegates took the floor.72
69 A. H a m o n , Le Socialism e et le Congrs de Londres, P a ris 1897,
p. 150.
70 Ibidem , p. 151, and V erh andlungen und B eschlsse, p. 17.
71 I. D a s z y s k i , M idzynarodow y Kongres S o cja listyczn y w L on
d yn ie [International Socialist Congress in London], N aprzd, Aug. 13,
1896, No. 33, p. 3.
72 A. H a m o n , Le Socialism e et le Congrs de L o n d r e s . . . , pp. 152 - 156 ;
V erhandlungen u n d B esc h l sse. . . , pp. 18- 20.

After some of the anarchists left the session, the resolution was
unanimously adopted.
It is absolutely necessary, said Przedwit in its account
of the debate that the Congress should clearly and explicitly
express its opinion on this matter ; whether it sympathises with
the oppressed peoples drive for independence or not. Once this
question is resolved the need to state ones attitude towards every
nationality separately is no longer valid. The other side of our
motion, that is the protest against tsarism, has been at least
partly resolved by the Swiss resolution which had been carried
on the morning of the same day.73
Przedwit added that this turning away of the delegates
attention from our concern and focusing it primarily on the Russian
movement was probably due to the Petersburg strike which by
breaking out just before the Congress must have filled with hope
all the hearts of the foes of tsarism. It would have been difficult
for us to demand an identical resolution especially concerning our
movement for it would have looked like envying the Russian
socialists their success. That is why we in the Commission have
adopted the motion for the resolution which we are printing below
and which, after all, fulfilled all our demands.74
True, in June, shortly before the London Congres, the public
opinion of working Europe was stirred by the news of a big
strike of textile workers in St Petersburg in which 45,000 workers
took part. It was the first organised industrial action in Russia
of such proportions.
In a situation when the demand for Polands independence
was not related to any forceful insurrectional movement in the
country itself, and the action of the Petersburg workers, com
pared with the previous inertia in the Russian movement, roused
certain hopes in the world of the International, in such a situation
it was obvious that political interest would focus on the strikes.
Impressed by them the Swiss delegation suddenly moved a motion
at the Congress plenary session, which proposed the passing of

73 Zjazd. M idzynarodow y [International Congress], P rzed w it, Ju ly

1896, No. 7, p. 7.
74 Ibidem .
TH E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 133

a resolution expressing joy at the first ever appearance of

a delegation of a truly Russian labour organisation at an inter
national convention, and recognizing this organisation which is
such a powerful enemy of tsarism. In view of the recent strike
of Petersburg workers, the resolution was very timely and was
carried by acclamation.75
In its post-congressional reflections Przedwit wondered what
had been the reason that the Congress devoted so little time to the
vital matter of the attitude of socialists to national oppression.
True, formal questions and the struggle with anarchists had turned
the Congress attention away from that matter and consumed
most of the time. Yet, the Polish socialists knew full well that
the reason for such a feeble resonance of their motion in the
Congress and for its being kept in the background, lay elsewhere.
The journal saw it in the fact that the majority of West-
European countries did not see any urgency in the national
question. National oppression either is there non-existent so there
is no need to bother about it, or the question whether to support
national aspirations or not is combined with so many problems
of internal politics that it cannot be considered in the abstract ;
for instance the attitude of France and Italy towards Alsace and
Trieste.76 But the PPS leaders were aware that this was only one
side of the question. The other was the fear, which existed not
only among the West-European socialists but also partly in the
PPS own ranks, that the national slogans might obscure the social
goals of the proletariats struggle. How it [i.e. the tabling at the
Congress of the problem of struggle against national oppression
F.T.] was necessary can be seen in the fact that our tactics was
misunderstood by many of our comrades, that some reproached
us for including the m atter of independence in the programme,
that they did not distinguish us from plain patriots, finally the
fact that there existed an opposition in this question also in our
own ranks. Today the matter has been solved.77

75 Ibidem , p. 6.
76 R zu t oka na w y n ik i Z jazd u [A Look at the R esults of the Congress],
P rzedw it, Ju ly 1896, No. 7, p. 11.
77 Ibidem .

Did the leadership of the PPS and its organ Przedwit believe
that the London resolution, or rather the few lines of its
resolution dealing with the national question, had really
solved the attitude of the 2nd International towards the national
question ?
In effect, neither the stand of the SDKP nor that of the PPS
won the day at the Congress, although both the groupings later
claimed officially that their resolution, albeit in an altered guise,
gained the approval of the Congress. SDKP was jubilant mainly
because PPS had been unable to force through its nationalist
resolution and because the Congress granted priority to social
affairs, to the general political struggle of the workers for power ;
PPS, on the other hand, rejoiced because the question of the
struggle against national oppression had been reflected at all
in the political resolution of the Congress.
Assessments for internal use struck a much lower key. Our
motion sort of passed, sort of did not, wrote Pisudski in his letter
to the leadership of the national organisation of the PPS. The
Congress generalized our motion and spread it to all the conquered
nations, expressing its sympathy with themnot a word about
Poland in thisso the result is neither fish, flesh, fowl or good
red herring, but we must pretend everythings all right and say
that our motion had passed.78
Several days after the Congress had closed B. A. Jdrzejowski
in a letter to A. Labriola, who was alarmed that the Polish
resolution had disappeared from the Congress agenda,79 tried to
explain the reasons for this. He saw them in several factors in the
inability to conduct any discussion at the Congress, which drove
the resolutions to generalizations ; in the fear of the French to
address anything specially against Russia, and secondly, he
added, who could foresee that the Congress would take place
under the impact of the recent Petersburg strike.80
It was only a few months after the London Congress that the

78 J. P isudski from London, Aug. 4, 1896, to CK R P P S in Poland,

N iepodlego, vol. X V II, 1938, p. 60.
79 A. L a b r i o l a , Korespondencja . . . , p. 538.
80 Ibidem , pp. 539 - 540.
T H E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 135

Central Board of ZZSP concluded pessimistically that Liebknecht,

Labriola and a few old Germans (probably F. Lessner, and
J. MottelerF.T.) were the only ones who had so far understood
us and genuinely collaborated with us.81
The trouble was that those few old Germans did not have
much say on the Polish question even within their own party,
the SPD. Much more typical of its opinion was that expressed
to Kautsky after his article Finis Poloniae ? by Ignaz Auer,
member of the five-person leadership (Vorstand) of the SPD and
the partys secretary. He blamed Kautsky for viewing the Polish
question as if it concerned only Russia, when in reality it also
concerned Prussia and Austria. He considered that the whole area
von Memel bis zur Oder should be treated as a protective belt
with regard to Eastern barbarity and so nothing from that
territory could be given to Poland. Naturally, the London Con
gress will vote for the rebuilding (of Poland) but that will not be
the only stupidity it will commit.82
Auers fears, expressed a few days before the opening of the
Congress, wereas we know nowungrounded. The most in
fluential members of the International had ideas not much dif
ferent from his.

In the final reckoning, the Polish socialists failed to make the

regaining of independence by Poland the special focus of interest
of the 2nd International, as was the case with its predecessor, the
1st International.
But there was no doubt that if the 2nd International did
concern itself at all with the national question and passed the
later famous formula about the right of every nation to self-
determination, a formula adopted by V. I. Lenin as the starting
point for all his ideas about the national question as well as in
his arguments with Rosa Luxemburg, this was due only to the

81 B. A. J d r z e j o w s k i , Dec. 1, 1890, from L ondon to K. K elles-

K rau z in P aris, CA KC PZPR , 305/II/ , book IX, c. 421.
82 I. A uer, Ju ly 23, 1896, fro m B erlin to K. K autsky. A rchives of
th e In tern atio n al In stitu te of Social H istory (IISH ) in A m sterdam . A rchiv
K au tsk y D.II/224.

efforts of the Polish socialists. According to Naprzd, this role

of Poles was confirmed by the rapporteur of the political Com
mission at the Congress, George Lansbury, who explicitly pointed
out that the above resolution had been promoted by the motion
of the Poles and that the Commission had unanimously tabled it
because of all the conquered peoples.83
So in this case the Poles became the spokesmen of those
conquered peoples. They caused a great international discussion
to flare up on the eve of the London Congress (at the Congress
itself no arguments were exchanged on the subject) both in the
press and in the lobbies on the attitude of the working class
towards Polands struggle for independence. This debate had
important implications concerning the labour movements stand
point on the national question in general.
Significantly, the 2nd International did not take up again
the subject of the national question at any of its later congresses.
In 1910, this question appeared at the Congress in Copenhagen
only in the narrow context of the separatist policy on the part of
Bohemian trade unionists with regard to the national Austrian
trade-union movement ; the broader aspects of the national
question were not reflected in the resolutions. Similarly, when
the colonial question would appear on the agenda of the 2nd
International, it was not treated as a national question.84
Interestingly, not only the national question was dismissed
during the London debates. Another important group of prob
lemsalthough it was listed first among the chief items on
the agendawas dealt with by the Congress in a general way.
It was the agrarian question.
The way these two questions were treated in London was
symptomatic of the ideological and political image of the 2nd
International. It resulted from the very concept of the labour
struggle prevalent in the political circle of that organisation.
For as long as reforms in the existing socio-political system
were sought after, not its overthrow, so long only the question
83 I. D a s z y s k i , M idzynarodow y Kongres Socjalistyczny w L o n
dynie (c.d.), N aprzd, Aug. 20, 1896, No. 34, p. 2.
84 See J. J e m n i t z, F. T y c h , Die II. Internationale und die Kolo
nialfrage, in : Internationale Tagung der H istoriker der A rbeiterbew egu ng
(X III. L inzer K o n fere n z 1977), W ien 1981, pp. 30 - 56.

of consolidating the political presence of socialists and of th e

stre n g th of th e ir pressure on th e actual political institutions w as
of v ita l im portance. Less so was the problem of those tactical
and strateg ic contexts w hich becam e p articu la rly im portant in
the perspective of struggle for pow er th a t is th e question of
alliances. The proper slogans in th e national and peasant
questions could m obilise political allies who w ould give quite
a d iffe re n t im pulse and significance to th e political struggles of
the existing socialist parties. B ut these w ere affairs closely
connected w ith th e general stra te g y of th e labour m ovem ent.
Thus, th e fate of the independence resolution was decided
p rim arily by two factors com bined in various varian ts and
proportions :
(1) doctrinal assum ptions : d istru st of the national question
and its classless n a tu re ; it w as related m ore to th e bourgeois-
-dem ocratic th a n pro letarian revolution ; dislike of involving
the forces of the p ro letariat into the foundation of new bourgeois
states and new national b a rriers ; dislike to involve socialist
parties into goals d ifferent from those w hich w ere im m ediately
concerned w ith th e social fight of the p ro letariat and served its
political action ;
(2) political assum ptions : fear of upsetting the existing
political m ap of Europe, p articu larly m anifest in the social-
-dem ocratic parties in those countries w hich had p artitioned
Poland, b u t also visible in o th e r parties, especially the F rench
w hich did not w an t to w eaken Russia in th e ir own sta te s
The first group of reasons was rooted m ostly in th e past. The
o ther, in th e fu tu re of the m ovem ent, in th e inchoate attitu d es
of socialist p arties related to th e advancing process of integration
w ith th e system of political stru c tu re s in th e ir own states.
The fa te of th e resolution on P olands independence at th e
London Congress revealed not only certain essential phenom ena
and processes occurring w ithin th e 2nd International. F o r it
becam e th e occasion for a confrontation, on an intern atio n al
stage, of tw o d ifferen t concepts, tw o various paths leading to
th e lib eratio n of th e Polish nation, proclaim ed and carried out
w ithin th e Polish socialist m ovem ent.

One trend, traditional by now in the revolutionary wing of

the Polish labour movement since its formation in the second half
of the 1870s, preferred by the first Polish Socialist groups and
the Proletariat Party, continued by the SDKP and its ideologue,
Rosa Luxemburg, put first among the aims of the proletariat the
social goals and the preparation of the socialist revolution. It
considered that this revolution, which would be international in
its essence, would automatically, as it were, resolve also the
question of restoring freedom to the Polish people. It would
liberate it from all oppression and make equal among the free
and free among equals. This trend did not want to engage the
forces of the proletariat, before achieving socialist revolution,
in the creation of new bourgeois countries and new state
barriers. It estimated that the proclamation of national slogans,
classless in their nature, could endanger the ideological and
political independence of the workers, and create a bridge for
an ideology alien to the concept of social revolution. It considered
the international unity of workers as the main guarantee of
winning freedom from national oppression as well as from all
forms of oppression and exploitation.
This, of course, did not mean that a revolutionary party
was to be indifferent to the destiny of oppressed nations, in
cluding that of its own Polish nation. On the contrary. Hostility
towards national oppression was an integral part of the political
doctrine of all the trends in Polish socialism. It was not thought
that the Polish nation was irrevocably doomed to oppression
until the victory of the socialist revolution. The idea was that
struggle against national oppression prior to the victory of
a social revolution would mean struggle for equal national rights
within the general demands for the democratisation of political
relations in the existing system of states. It was considered that
in the social system then prevailing in Europe and the world,
which was thought to be doomed to a short life, involving the
proletariat in the foundation of new capitalist states would be
simply an ideologically risky waste of its forces.
The other trend, much more recent, which at the time of
the London Congress was three-and-a-half year old as a pro
gramme in the Polish labour movement, proclaimed that one
TH E P O L IS H Q U E STIO N . 1896 139

should not wait for socialist revolution in order to restore

independence to the Polish people. It was thought that even
the minimum programme that is the programme of pre-socialist
transformations should contain the demand for an independent
democratic Polish republic. The argument ran that the regaining
of independence would mop up, as it were, the battlefield of
class struggles and in effect should facilitate the workers fight
for socialism.
This was the reasoning that moved Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz,
the initiator of the PPS resolution for the Congress. It should
be added, for the sake of truth, that not all the leaders and
ideologues of the PPS placed the independence slogan in such
clear proletarian class contexts as did Kelles-Krauz or the
people akin to him in their ideas. Many PPS leaders treated the
labour movement, the politically most active national force,
simply as an instrument in their independence visions. Moreover,
this process, then only nascent, in the PPS, gathered impetus
with time. The most prominent of its exponents was another
leader present at the birth of the London resolution, Jzef Pi
This different interpretation of class and social contexts of the
independence slogans led later to an ideological and political
polarisation within the PPS.
One thing is quite certain : the fate of the London resolution
on the independence of Poland, irrespective of the failure of
its original conception in the forum of the Congress, was a kind
of internationalisation of new, dating only to 1892, programme
concepts in the Polish labour movement : the combining of the
socialist movement with the struggle for the countrys indepen
dence. These events were irrevocable.
The fate of the Polish resolution did something else : it
heralded perhaps the earliest phenomenon which surfaced so
dramatically in August 1914 in the political life with the unex
pected breakdown of the 2nd International that accompanied
the outbreak of World War I. Almost all the main parties of the
2nd International, which not long ago declared the supra-national
and supra-state unity of the labour movement, turned out to be
solidary with their governments at war. It was a sort of summing

up of integration processes which in 1896 were still embryonic

but had already marked their impact on the fate of the Polish

(Translated by K r y sty n a Kplicz)